Monday, March 29, 2010

GI Usability Conference Talk and Notes

Google Earth Tours: Testing spatial content
View more presentations from mukih.
Muki has posted my recent talk slides along with the other slides from the day. They're cryptic without my audio explanations so I've produced some notes for you to read as you scan through the slides.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

GI Usability Conference and the Last Half Meter

Sorry for the absence of posts, I've been too busy over the last week or so but the activities that have kept me away have generated lots of ideas for posts that I'll be getting to shortly.

What is Usability of Geographic Information?: On Tuesday I was at the second GI usability conference (programme and links). The most interesting aspect of the day was comparing my own ideas about what GI usability is against others. To me, its about how data is visualised on screen which is most of what I discuss in this blog. To others it included data structures, metadata, interoperability, topics I think are important but didn't strike me as being 'usablility' before.

The Last Half Meter: Whilst the other definitions of usability I came across are important topics IMHO there is a lack of discussion/knowledge in the area of GI visualisation. To me the situation is nicely summed up by diagrams like this one:

It's a subset of a data flow schema about how a user queries a GI dataset and it's similar to a number of other diagrams I've come across by techies about GISs. in terms of getting the system to work you can clearly see the technical links, what database talks to what etc. but what is missing IMHO is any sort of consideration about how that data is displayed on screen and how the user will interact with it, if you will, the 'last half meter' between the user and the hardware. I want to know more about what will happen in the red box, for example:
  • How many screens will they need to navigate to post a query?
  • What happens if their query doesn't produce the answer they really wanted, how will they iterate to a better query?
  • How will documentation/help/FAQs be offered to them?
All the above are key questions that affect the overall performance of a GIS/user system but they are represented in the figure by a single arrowhead delivering perfect information to the user in a kind of Vulcan mind meld interaction. I think this shows the bias of techies to want to solve the straightforward technical issues like interoperability or speed of display but don't like addressing the messy issue of how the user interacts with the GIS.

In some senses this analysis is a bit unfair, I'm drawing a big conclusion from a single diagram but my argument predicts that you should see GI projects where they author has invested a lot of time in solving technical issues but not tackled some basic rules of cartography/usability. The Hurrican Gustav project that I reviewed is a perfect example and its by no means the only one.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Google Streetview Covers All Roads in UK

Via Ed Parsons I learn that the Google streetview car has been busy covering the length and breadth of the UK:

This is the Ford in Neen Savage, Shropshire, UK. I've spent many happy hours here throwing sticks for dogs to fetch from the river.

Google seem to have done all the rural public roads in the UK including dead ends and this rather fetching view of the flow country in the North of Scotland, I would guess the least populated area of the country

Its an amazing piece of work, I'm drooling at the educational possibilities, e.g. getting students to hunt for abandoned buildings in Scotland and Hampshire then comparing the results as an exercise in rural deprivation.

Streetview in Google Earth: You can also access the same data in Google Earth and incorporate it in a tour. This KMZ example is a location we take our students to and the tour could serve as a brilliant introduction or debrief for a field visit. A shame the tour doesn't activate the detailed imagery in the Streetview bubble but hey, the students can go back and explore for themselves later.

Streetview Tour HowTo: To produce your own streetview tour in Google Earth:
  1. Turn on the Streetview layer in the Places column. Select the streetview bubble you wish to use.
  2. Right click the Bubble, copy and then past into your Places column.
  3. Record a tour as normal, by double clicking the bubble in the main screen you will be flown to the centre of it.
  4. Save the bubble and tour in a file and you're done.
Well done Google! I'm fascinated to know how many cars it took to do this, it must have been a lot of fun doing too, well, except for the Luddite mobs defending middle England.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Beware Smart Graphics

Professional production values make us believe data presented to us in maps, charts and graphics. But consider 'Everyone Ever in the World'. Clever, artistic, beautifully clear and without any sort of basis in fact. Here's Steven Pinker to explain why (worth watching in full but for those of you in a rush, speed to 4.00 mins in) :

What went wrong: If you're interested in why they got it wrong, they didn't take into account 'missing data'. We know how many people died in WWII and it's true we have only a few records of the people who were murdered in 2000-1000 BC but that doesn't mean it was a peaceful time, its just the record keeping was dire compared to today.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Panamap and Haiti VGI

A busy week so just a couple of links of interest:

There are still a lot of reasons for paper maps and panamap just thought of another:

I've been watching the Volunteered Geographic Information that has gone on with Haiti. Good to see some promotion for Haiti Maps on the BBC.